Layar shows the Augmented Reality revolution is not in Silicon Valley

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In Amsterdam today, the makers of mobile Augmented Reality (AR) browser Layar announced version 2.0 of the browser as well as a slew of new layars which have been produced since they opened up their API to developers. A ‘layar’ is information overlaid on the camera view of your mobile phone, e.g. the asking price of an apartment for sale in the building your camera is pointed at.  Layar will be pre-installed on the new Samsung Galaxy Android phone about to be released in the Netherlands and the Android version of the browser is available for download in the Android app store. The iPhone version will be available as soon as Apple updates its API to allow access to the iPhone camera.

Bruce Sterling on AR

The Layar event was opened by science fiction writer  Bruce Sterling who has been blogging recently about the augmented reality scene.  He pointed out that the biggest language bases for AR are actually Korean and Dutch with English coming in third. Similarly, the greatest interest is not in San Francisco but places like Singapore, Lisbon and Amsterdam. Could this be a new tech industry which does not revolve around Silicon Valley?

He described AR as a “technovisionary’s dream come true” but warned of trouble ahead for the fledging industry as it will face all the problems which accompany any technology with massive commercial potential, e.g. the AR equivalents of spam and online criminalty, the Gartner hype cycle, the environmental impact. He imagined a “Crack dealers layar” or “Neo-nazi’s occupation guide to Amsterdam”.  Sterling also gave the audience a metric for maturity in their industry – when AR people have a characteristic, and expensive, look (“All Web 2.0 people took the same”). He was guessing it would not be dissimilar to the look of chic, off-duty Hollywood executives. If only we had more fashion talk in tech presentations.

Brightkite Augmented Reality from Brightkite on Vimeo.

Building a Layar

Building a new layar is pretty straightforward using the Layar API. A layar can be customised via a simple web form and an Android APK is available for testing. Full info is available on the Layar Wiki. The layars announced in today’s event range from Sapporo hot spots, Poetry in motion (geotagged poems), celebrity sightings and city soundwalks to mobile coupons. There are also plenty of layars for navigation, tourism and real-estate applications. 500 new developer keys were also released today so join the revolution and start building your own layar now.

  • Stefano Bernardi

    I just love it.

    • Klau

      good to see that everybody is not copying Microsoft ideas!

      • TheVivienne

        Oh I didn’t see that these are already available in edopter, I need to find it in the site soon. Thanks for giving it a good post. data centre relocation

  • Jules Morgan

    First off, I actually agree completely – AR is the future. Anyone who’s wondering what the world will be like in 50 years need look no further. Although by then it’ll be in contact lenses.

    I’m surprise that the potential misuses are a talking point though since all this is doing is layering data. The issue is the availability of data in the first place and that horse bolted a while ago. It’s called the Internet or something.

    If people want to get a better idea of this they need to use the app or take a look at the link to the layars available. For starters, Wikipedia is one of them.

    The early player in this space was Wikitude which was also on Android and it’s not a coincidence they gravitate towards this platform – Android apps have much greater flexibility in terms of how they’re able to integrate with your phone (background apps/replacement of default functions) so iPhone users may need to be prepared for a watered-down version.

    Credit to the Dutch – they’re dicking on the UK in this space.

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  • Robert

    I absolutely agree, I’ve tested Layar today as well and wrote a review on it here:

    fantastic application and I can’t wait to see more augmented reality apps showing up!

  • Moe Glitz

    Depending on the vision and promotion from all major Mobile Phone Operators like Vodafone, T-Mobile, Orange, etc.

    AR could become the ‘killer app’ of future Mobile Web Phones.

  • Florian Wittig

    I saw an presentation of an travelling AR App some weeks ago. That was the point I realised the potential of Android. Definetly need an Android phone in early 2010, when the more powerfull devices will be there.

  • Joe Dawson

    Augmented Reality is amazing, I’m seriously considering upgrading my handset to be in a position to receive the full benefits from this technology. There is so much potential that it’s difficult to fathom what could realistically be achieved through innovation…

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  • jonas324

    It’s cool, but

    The phone needs to be very precisely localized in places where small distance matters (eg: downtown)
    Today’s GPS phones are always 20-100m off, how does Layar deal with this?

    Plus, Layar’s technology is easily reproductible…(how many AR demos have we seen in the past 2 months?)
    What are they gonna do when dozens of free apps/webapps will allow everyone to upload a KML file and display it in 3D?

    What is the business plan? sell the tech to nokia?

  • Andy Thompson
  • tim

    Is this doing object recognition on the camera input or simply accessing information by GPS location? If the latter, overlaying it on the camera input is an idiotic gimmick. Also, it will not work in cities where buildings often block GPS signal.

    • crazyfrog

      as far as i can work out it is doing it based on gps. in that event, it won’t work indoors, or as ‘tim’ says, anywhere the thing can’t get a gps signal. it would also rely on both the individual points being displayed through the layar interface -and- the gps position on the phone being accurate. otherwise you’ll just end up with a load of jumbled stuff that isn’t where it claims to be; not good if you’re looking for a late night bar ;)

  • Jeremy

    Not sure I understand why the iphone API can’t handle this yet. How do hilarious and pseudo-functional apps like “email and walk”–which overlays an email composition box on a stream from the camera–work currently?

  • Dave

    I’m extremely interested to see how the automotive industry adopts this in the US. The example from Mazda is unique but only begins to scratch the surface of how this technology can be leveraged during the car shopping process.

  • Shahar Nechmad

    It’s interesting to think about this new trend of augmented reality. Are we going toward what we have seen in science fiction movies for years? How we connect the social media aspects to this trends?
    Here are some of my thoughts…

  • Brandon Paton

    You present that AR is “technology with massive commercial potential.”

    Absolutely not. As someone in one of the other posts about AR said, “Augmented Reality is not practical unless wearing a headset.”

    Who is going to walk around holding their camera in front of them looking at a “layar”? I’m going to say that I would, but only to try it out a few times.

    After a few times, and after the novelty has worn off, I would never use the app again, unless I wanted to impress a nerdy chick or something.

    If there is something in Augmented Reality that would benefit the common person, please reply to this comment.

    Now, if they come up with sun glasses that have an AR overlay, that’d be different.

    • Ciara Byrne

      It depends a lot on the application. I don’t necessarily want info overlaid over my field of view all the time – just when I need it. One of the first layars was for a real-estate site in the Netherlands. As someone who often sees a house for sale in Amsterdam and thinks “have to check that when I get home” being able to point the camera and get the info straight away is a great convenience. Of course you can look up the web site but that’s a lot less immediate even when you do it on your phone.

    • Isaac

      they mentioned its use with mobile coupons. simple decisions about where to eat when short on cash could easily be solved when you can pull up restaurant locations and mobile coupons they offer.

  • Sekhar Ravinutala

    Cool app, just checked it out on my MyTouch. These “layars” are going to quickly get out of hand though. The winner in this whole AR thing is going to be one that makes it easy for user to pull just the info he wants (food, movies, whatever).

    • jonas324

      The winner will be the one with the better content, aka Google. The tech is not important here

    • Sekhar Ravinutala

      Yep, tech isn’t; but easy of use is. It’s really painful to enter any info on a mobile device, so the less we have to, the better.

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  • Chad Huber

    Maybe its just me. But I dont find this realistic…

    the guy drove an Audi to the dealership to drive a Mazda?

    • Ciara Byrne

      I don’t think this one is the best application of the technology. It’s just an example and I liked the capture from the magazine and the music in the video :) See the Layar site for lots of different applications – mobile coupons is one of my favourites from a practicality point of view.

      • wtf

        You should disclose your obvious bias for the tech. Which AR company do you represent?

      • Ciara Byrne

        As a tech writer Layar and AR in general is some of the most interesting tech I have come across in a while. But I don’t have any commercial interest. Hard to take a comment like this too seriously though when it’s anonymous.

  • zunguri

    You’re right about the “not in Silicon Valley” aspect. In Silicon Valley you put on glasses and get the data.

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